Written by Kaat Vander Straeten Sept. 12, 2017
August 23, 2017 (Lincoln, Sudbury, Wayland, MA) — On Saturday, August 19, two Wayland homeowners opened their “solar houses” to the interested public. The Open House Tour was part of Solarize Lincoln-Wayland-Sudbury, a Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) program that offers residents and businesses preselected solar photovoltaic (PV) and domestic hot water (SHW) systems and financing options at lower costs.
The three towns selected SolarFlair Energy, Inc. and New England Solar Hot Water as their installers. Kaat Vander Straeten welcomed people to her home in the Happy Hollow neighborhood. She and fellow volunteer Anne Harris explained the ins and outs of the PV system, installed in 2011, and the SHW system, installed in 2013.
“Both were about twice as expensive then,” Vander Straeten pointed out. For the PV, which produces electricity from the sun, some of the incentives she took advantage of back then are no longer available. “An $8000 instant rebate, for instance,” she said, “which is gone now, and yet it is still cheaper to go solar now because the cost of the panels has gone down so much while their efficiency has gone up. This translates into a present break-even point (the moment when the costs are paid off and after which it starts generating savings and income) of only about 5 years - half that of mine.”
SHW systems, which heat domestic water, are cheaper too, but for opposite reasons. It is an established technology, so the efficiency improves very slowly, but the rebates and tax breaks have become better since 2013, when Vander Straeten installed hers. Solarize LSW now offers a two-collector system like hers for less than half the price, under $2,500. “If you figure that our SHW system takes care of all our hot water needs in the summer, that our furnace doesn’t even come on from June to September, it’s a sound investment.” Where PV is concerned, it generates savings on the utilities bills as well as hard cash. But the incentive program called SREC (solar renewable energy credits), which generates that cash, will be replaced in spring 2018 with a program that may not be as interesting for homeowners. “That’s why now is the moment to go solar,” said Anne Harris. “After contracting it still takes months to get the system installed and turned on by Eversource."
The hard deadline for the Solarize LSW program is January 31st, 2018, when the discounted prices on the PV and the SHW systems go away. But to get into the SREC program, I’d say a safer, soft deadline would be December first.” “People ask me all the time if they should wait for better technology, which makes the news all the time. Elon Musk’s solar roof, for instance. My advice is not to wait,” said Harris. “By the time these technologies hit the market and become affordable, a system installed now will already have paid for itself and will have been sitting there, maintenance-free, making money.
This is already the case for many systems installed under the SolarizeLSW program in 2012. Many of those systems have broken even and are profitable.” For the Solarize volunteers it is not just about good investments and deals. Their main motivator is that PV and SHW generate clean energy. “When you think about it, it’s pretty awesome that my household is a producer of electricity that is clean and safe to boot!” said Vander Straeten. “No carbon emissions, no pollution, no tailings or fracking liquids or nuclear waste. Simple sunlight. It’s a no-brainer.” She only wishes they had been able to size it larger.
Since 2011 they have added a Nissan LEAF Plug-In, which pushed their consumption just above what they produce. She buys the extra through the Massachusetts Energy Consumers Alliance, ensuring all of her household’s electricity is 100% renewable. The issue of sizing one’s array with future electric loads in mind was a hot topic at the other Wayland Solar Open House, Sabine von Mering’s house in the Middle School area. Asked why she had purchased additional solar panels after leasing a system in the first Solarize program, von Mering explained that her oil heating system had reached the end of its life two years later. "Rather than purchasing another fossil fuel heating system I took advantage of a zero percent interest HEAT Loan to install an air-sourced heat pump.
Since the heat pump uses electricity it made sense to invest in more solar. And for that you can tap into the State’s advantageous Solar Loan program.” Von Mering’s PV arrays also faces south, east and west. “The efficiency is now such that east and west facing roofs are good candidates, especially if they aren’t shaded.” Janot Mendler-de Suarez of Wayland, who visited both Open Houses, was particularly pleased that during the solar site visit she scheduled, the installers “were able to give us exactly the information we wanted so we can weigh the difference between solar production with or without trimming back some of our trees, even enabling us to compare the cost of tree work with the gain in solar payback time.”
“Though solar projects are big decisions with big impacts, Solarize has already done a lot of the work selecting a good installer and getting a good price,” said Vander Straeten. “In these installers, technology and experience combine to take all the guesswork out of the picture.” For those who missed the Open Houses in Wayland and Lincoln, SolarizeLSW invites them to an Open House in Sudbury on September 23, 2-4 PM. There will also be more information sessions with the Installers. More information can be found on www.solarizeLSW.org, or by emailing [email protected].
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